Plastics bag ban detrimental to Asian supermarkets

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

Seattle’s plastic bag ban has had mixed results for businesses, but for Asian grocery stores the impact has been more negative than for most due to increased costs, misunderstandings from customers, and increased shoplifting.

The amount of money stores spend on bags has increased sharply, even with the addition of the five-cent paper-bag fee charged to customers.

“The ban has affected our business a lot,” said Yen Lam, owner of Lam’s Seafood. “It’s been expensive. Our expenses on bags has tripled, if not quadrupled. Bags used to cost us a penny, but now they cost us eight to 10 cents depending on the distributor we use.”

This is in line with mainstream grocery stores. According to an early 2013 survey by Seattle Public Utilities, 32 percent of businesses saw an increase in the amount they spend on bags, while 31 percent of businesses said their costs stayed level. Twenty-one percent actually saw a decrease in spending, while 16 percent didn’t know.

Where the similarities end, however, is with dealing with customers. Unlike mainstream grocery stores, many of Lam’s customers come from outside the city, where the plastic bag ban has no effect and where Seattle’s outreach efforts have not touched. Plastic bag bans also exist in Edmonds, Bellingham, and Mukilteo. The change has resulted in offended customers, abused staff, and loss of business.

“They don’t understand it’s city policy,” Lam said. “A lot of my customers aren’t from the city, and they think this is our policy — they think we want to charge them for bags. Our checkout workers have been yelled at, cursed at. We’ve had people who were offended and decided not to buy from us.”

“It’s different for Asian stores,” Lam continued. “We tried different ways of not offending our customers, we gave them free reusable bags with large purchases, but it hasn’t worked.”

Shoplifting at Lam’s Seafood has also increased. Though nearly 60 percent of businesses surveyed by the Seattle Public Utilities said shoplifting was not an issue, Lam’s has seen a sharp increase in shoplifting due to the ease of slipping items into reusable bags.

“Shoplifting has gone up tremendously,” Lam said. “We finally caught one shoplifter who had been coming in three times a day. She had been coming very often.”

“There’s a lot of decent people who put items in their bags and walk around while shopping,” Lam continued.

“But shoplifters do too, and it’s considered disrespectful to ask people to keep items in their basket until they’re checked out.” (end)

Charles Lam can be reached at

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One Response to “Plastics bag ban detrimental to Asian supermarkets”

  1. Eileen says:

    It was really sad to read this account . Where is the positive news on the plastic bag ban for the Asian community? Are there less plastic bags flying around in the International District? There are certainly plenty of plastic bags being used for food use and take out so why can’t the international community be educated to be a positive contribution to this city. Does the environment have to suffer because of ignorance and non-compliance. Asian countries are far behind Seattle in terms of environmental awareness so why should our city not go forward but backwards in terms of awareness.
    People will begin to respect the community and take back a better awareness towards their own communities to implement this and our environment will improve. Asian communities eat a lot of fish, it is the plastics in our oceans that are now in bits and pieces going into the food chain. If these consumers are unaware than up to the stores to help educate if they don’t understand. And yes the rest of us are tired of seeing the trash all over and low awareness towards the environment in the International District, the plastic bag policy will help clean up this area.


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